Still think social media is the province of the young? Think again. According to a new report about social networking from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 72 percent of online adults now use social networking sites.
The Pew report parses social media demographics, charting which groups have experienced the most growth. While younger adults continue to be enthusiastic users, the percent of older Internet users on social media has surged since 2009. In particular, the percent of those aged 65+ using social networking websites has roughly tripled-from 13 percent in 2009 to 43 percent.
This is great news overall, but federal regulators should heed these statistics as a warning sign that they can no longer delay confronting a pressing technology issue: how to ensure that America's communications infrastructure is upgraded to more efficient, advanced high-speed broadband so that it can handle today's data-hungry services and devices.
The rapid growth of social media itself tells the story of the need for new broadband infrastructure. Fewer than 10 years ago, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube didn't even exist. Five years ago, according to Pew, social media users were primarily under age 29.
Today, in addition to younger users, tens of millions of adults have flocked to media sharing websites. Instagram users already share 45 million photos daily and Instavideo's 15 seconds of video makes Twitter's Vine offering seem antiquated.
The Internet is alive with video, and requires long-term investments and upgrades to the infrastructure that carries it to our homes, laptops, and hand-help devices.
The voice-centric communication system wasn't originally designed to support data. That's where the need to deploy robust high-speed broadband networks comes in to support voice and data, primarily video, photos and text/instant messaging platforms.
For years, the FCC has looked at how to effectively upgrade the nation's networks so that they can deliver high speed Internet services. One proposed approach would keep the best interests of consumers at heart by starting "test trials " in a couple of local markets around the country that would allow government to supervise and evaluate the successes and any consumer issues associated with the upgrade and modernization of our existing telephone networks.
Unfortunately, the FCC has not yet green lighted such tests.
Despite the FCC's inaction, industry and public interest groups -- oftentimes at loggerheads on regulatory issues-are finding common ground. A few weeks ago, the consumer group Public Knowledge published a "framework for phone network transition" that outlined principles for a successful transition. AT&T, the company proposing the trials, endorsed these guidelines as a beneficial starting point of discussions for both industry and consumers over the next few years, and is calling on the FCC to use the geographically defined trials to accelerate the technology transition to next-generation broadband networks in America.
The FCC should step up and take quick action. Regulators need to stop focusing on the old 20th century phone system and start encouraging a system capable of meeting our demands for the high-speed Internet services and applications of the 21st Century.
Jason A. Llorenz, Esq. Is Senior Fellow, LIN@R at Rutgers University School of Communication and Information Studies; he is also Director of Innovation Policy for LIN@R. Follow him on Twitter @llorenzesq and follow LIN@R technology tweets @LINAR_technolog.